Attributes of a Healthy Church Part 2

An in depth study of Acts 2:42-47 allows us to peer into history and learn what the church looked like in her infancy. You could call the early part of the First-century her age of innocence. Just as Jesus implored believers to become like little children, He is today calling His bride to return to that simpler time when she was united around the teaching of the apostles, love for outsiders, affection for one another, and absolute adoration of God the Father.
 
As the First-century progressed, the church would experience deep valleys. In a time when great love and generosity was being demonstrated by the vast majority of believers, Ananias and Sapphira would seek to deceive and rob their brothers and sisters who were in need. Jealousy would seize the hearts of some and set off a controversy between Hebrew and Hellenized (Greek-speaking) believers. Stephen would be martyred and persecution would ensue. History would record many more difficult episodes for the young bride of Christ.
 
The church would also see many lofty heights. Early growth could be described as explosive. Thousands of disciples would be made over a very short period of time. A persecutor of the church would be saved and become a great instrument that God would use to reach the Gentiles with the gospel. In the midst of fierce persecution, the gospel would continue to spread. Even Caesar would be given the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel.
 
As far as lofty heights go, the pinnacle was reached early on. Acts 2:46-47 reveals the summit of church health, a summit for which church leaders have been striving for two thousand years…
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
 
The full number of believers was over 3,000 strong at this point. They were together every day. Understanding that Jesus was the Son of David and King of the Jews, they continued to worship in the Temple. They worshiped their God with glad and generous hearts because they understood that Messiah had come and rescued them from death. Their heartfelt worship continued as they would gather together in their homes and share meals together. Their new life gave way to a transformed lifestyle characterized by praise and adoration for the great God and Father of their Lord Jesus Christ.
 
There was no space large enough to accommodate their full number gathering together at one time. Yet they were said to be “together.” The word “together” is often translated “in one accord.” That does not mean that they were in a small car manufactured in Japan. It means that there was a harmony in their hearts, minds, and souls. There was a rhythm to the way that they devoted themselves to the word, to their love for others, to their affection for one another, and to their adoration of the Father. There was an unbroken and flawless chord that all labored to maintain by the help and direction of the Holy Spirit.
 
Those who have been a part of a church for any length of time know how precious is this harmony. Few things are more heart breaking than a contentious business or committee meeting where the membership is obviously out of rhythm and harmony. Someone always gets hurt. That is not to mention that the witness of the church is hindered. Worst of all, the name of Jesus is dishonored before the world.
 
Acts 2:42-47 is the ideal for which we should strive. Believers should be active in their local church. Like a piano tuner strikes a tuning fork in order to tune the instrument, believers should be seeking to strike the chord of gospel centeredness in their service to the bride of Christ. This will invite other believers to join in the song of praise. The sweet sound of Christ’s church harmonizing in one accord will be a call for those outside the faith to trust in Jesus as Savior and join in the song as well. Together the church will be built up into who she was always meant to be, the body of Christ.

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The Attributes of a Healthy Church

What makes a healthy church? That is what every believer who cares about their local fellowship wants to know. As I mentioned last week, we can get an idea of how healthy our church is by looking all the way back to the first century when the church, as a whole, was at its healthiest. In Acts 2:42-47, we have a succinct summary that gives us a vivid picture of what that first church looked like. This picture lends itself well to comparison whereby we can determine how well our 21st-century churches stack up against the church in the 1st century.
 
Last week, we discovered from verse 42 that a healthy church is first one where the word of God is the lynchpin. In that 1st century church, the word of God, otherwise known as “the apostles teaching,” was their lifeblood. It informed everything that they did and how they did it. They were not looking for new revelation, a more innovative message, or a more palatable spin on the gospel. When they came together for fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers it was apparent that they were devoted to what they had been taught by the apostles.
 
Today we turn our attention to verse 43 and part of verse 47, and we see that a healthy church is also one that is well thought of by outsiders. Verse 43 reads, “And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” Also part of verse 47 says that they had “favor with all the people.” It is clear from this summary that the first church in history was making a sizable impact on the community around them.
 
The apostles, those who had been with and were sent out by Jesus, were so full of faith and confident in the power that He bestowed upon them that they were able to do many signs and wonders in His name. They were simply trusting in the promise that He made in John 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do…” Because of their belief in Christ, the Apostles were able to perform the same types of miracles that Jesus performed on the earth.
 
A quick survey of the book of Acts will show that through the first century church and the Apostles who led them- the lame were made to walk (3:7-11), the sick were healed (5:12-16), prisoners were set free (5:19), the blind received sight (9:17-18), demons were cast out (16:18), and even the dead were raised back to life (9:39-42). Is there any wonder why “awe came upon every soul?” Is there any wonder why they had “favor with all people?”
 
When assessing the health of your own local church consider this question, is your church making an impact? When was the last time you saw someone be raised from the dead? I am kidding. Even the healthiest church of our time lacks the faith necessary to perform such a miracle. Even if your church is not giving sight to the blind or raising the dead, there should be some measurable impact on the world.
 
If tomorrow your church ceased to exist, how many people would miss it? How many people would go without a gospel witness? How many orphans would go uncared for? How many widows would go unvisited? How many hungry strangers would go unfed? A church that is not reaching out and making an impact on the world around them is a church that has become a social club. It is a church that is sick; one that has lost its vision.
 
When Jesus established the church, He declared that “the gates of hell would not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). That is precisely what we see in the book of Acts, Jesus’ church storming the gates of hell. We see her prevailing over all the forces of evil causing awe to fall on outsiders and leading them to show favor to believers. Many outsiders would become believers themselves.
 
Are similar things happening in your church? Is your fellowship of believers making an awe-inspiring impact on the world? Is your church winning the favor of outsiders? If not, then look to God for a vision. Ask Him to show you how to be an agent of change.

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The First Attribute of a Healthy Church

My denomination, The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), is not really a denomination but a convention of like-minded autonomous churches that voluntarily cooperate together for the purpose of doing the Great Commission. It originated as Triennial Baptist Convention, founded 203 years ago when Baptists came to understand that we could do more together than separately. I love the SBC, and I believe the churches of the SBC are some of the most Christ-centered mission-minded churches in the world.
 
You may be from one of the 9,000 different denominations that exist in the world or one of the hundreds of thousands of churches that claim no denominational affiliation. Each denomination and each nondenominational church claims to have a healthy grasp of the Christian faith. Whatever denomination you claim, you likely feel the same way about your fellowship as I do about the SBC.
 
Before there was a Protestant Reformation split off the Roman Catholic Church, there was one united body of Christians in the first century. On the day in which she was born, the day of Pentecost, there were three thousand souls added to her number (Acts 2:41). Over the first three centuries, the first church grew exponentially and evangelized much of the known world.
 
These days there are all sorts of measurements of church health. Every pastor and layperson who cares wants to get a pulse on whether or not their church is alive or dead, growing or declining, and whether or not they are reaching the world with the message of the gospel. The best measurement of your church’s health is to see how well it stacks up to the healthiest and growing church ever known.
 
Over the next few weeks, I want to use this space to expound upon Acts 2:42-47. No matter your denominational affiliation, this should help you get a feel for how healthy is your church. Let’s look at the first attribute of a healthy church and we will look at more next week.
 
1. A healthy church is one where Bible teaching is the lynchpin.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
 

It says here that the first church was devoted to “the apostles’ teaching.” The apostles, in obedience to the Great Commission, had made disciples, baptized them, and taught them all that Jesus had commanded them. This first church, composed of born again disciples, was careful to observe, learn, practice, and teach what they had been taught. The teaching of Peter, James, John and the other apostles was their lifeblood and the thing they hung onto the tightest.

 
There was no turning to the right or left. There was no new or strange teaching. Their fellowship was the fellowship that was taught to them. When they observed the Lord supper (the breaking of bread) they did it the way they were taught. They prayed, and when they prayed they did so in the way they were taught.
 
They were dogmatically conservative of the teaching they received. When they would receive letters from the apostles, they would make copies and circulate them to all the churches in the region. They believed these writings to be inspired of the Holy Spirit, so they took care in the way that they preserved them. Many would give their lives in obedience to what they had been taught, thus strengthening the resolve of the church and authenticating the teaching of the apostles.
 
The “apostles teaching” is still preserved for us today in twenty-six New Testament writings. Healthy churches still devote themselves to the apostles teaching. In healthy churches, the preaching from the pulpit and the teachings in the small groups (Sunday School) centers around the same teaching of the apostles. On the hearts and minds of the members are the New Testament writings. The way they fellowship, the way they practice the ordinances, and the way they pray are in accordance with the apostles’ teachings.
 
Ask these questions of your own church. Is the teaching that comes from the pulpit in agreement with the teaching in the New Testament? What about the teaching you receive in your smaller groups? Are the people in your fellowship discussing football more than they discuss scripture? The honest answers to these questions will give you a good idea about the health of your church.

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The Fear of Meaningless Success

“I’m not afraid of failure. I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
-William Carey
 
Last month I saw this quote was posted in large bold print on a prominent wall in a mission home in Moyo, Uganda. It has permanently gripped my heart and helped me discover what might be my greatest fear. There are two aspects to this fear. In one sense it is a healthy helpful fear; in another sense, it is unhealthy destructive.
 
It is helpful and healthy to fear succeeding at things that do not matter. Jesus said things like “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul” (Matthew 16:26). He also talked about not storing up treasures for ourselves on earth, “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:20). He told us that if our first priority was the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all things would be added to us (Matthew 6:33).
 
We should rightly be afraid of profiting in worldly things at the expense of our souls. This is probably what William Carey had in mind. He was afraid of laying up finite and perishable treasures. The fruit that he bore as a missionary was the product of his unyielding drive for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. William Carey was able to lay up a vast wealth of treasures in heaven. Indeed, he succeeded at the things that mattered. I pray we could all do the same.
 
If we are not careful, though, this fear can take us to a dark place. If we overcook the fear of succeeding at things that do not matter, then we will be left with the fear of not mattering. The fear of not mattering is how Satan twists the healthy fear that Carey articulated. He knows the word of God, and the drive of the believer to invest their lives in something greater. What does he do? He twists the word of God to make us doubt.
 
I cannot tell you how many times I have doubted that what I do matters. When people sleep through my sermons, I wonder, does preaching the gospel even makes a difference. I have had couples leave our counseling session and go straight to a divorce lawyer. It broke my heart and led me to wonder if investing my heart in the lives of others was even worth it. Over my 10 year ministerial career, I have had church members and even fellow staff members undermine decisions and directions that I believed were from God. This has often led me to question my calling and value as a leader in the church.
 
I am not the only one with these struggles. You too wonder if it is worth it to live your life for Jesus. Satan leads you to doubt that there is any value at all to be gained in investing your life in the Kingdom of God. The culture, over which he lords, leads you to believe that nothing matters except your own health, wealth, and wellbeing. Sadly, he has claimed more than a few preachers of this anti-gospel.
 
To combat the fear of not mattering and to encourage the drive to succeed at things that do matter, let us end by looking at two pursuits that the Lord says matter most.
 
 
1. Knowing Jesus matters. Paul was inspired of the Holy Spirit to write that knowing Him and the power of his resurrection is more valuable than anything this world has to offer. He counted all that he had profited by his birth and by his works to be a loss, to be garbage, compared to what he had gained in knowing Jesus and being found in Him (Phil 3:4-11). Thus, anything that you are doing to know Him and be found in Him has infinite and eternal value.
 
 
2. Making Jesus known matters. Romans 10 tells us that no one can be saved who does not believe in Him. No one can believe in Him unless they know Him. No one can know Him unless they hear of Him, and no one can hear of Him unless we preach. That is why it is written, “how beautiful are the feet of those preach the good news” (Romans 10:14-15). If you are obedient to spread the gospel, even if most will not believe, you are successful at something that matters, something that makes you beautiful.

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Death is No Match for the Resurrection

 

Death is an ugly process. It wrecks the body. If you have ever lost someone you love, then you know this. You have seen the sights, possibly even heard the sounds or smelled the smells of death. You may have experienced what it is like to clutch the lifeless hand of your loved one or kiss their cold forehead.
 
The emotions that seeing death stirs up in the survivors is heart-wrenching. When experiencing the death of a loved one it is difficult to feel anything except defeated and helpless. You may have difficulty imagining them being buried and wonder if they feel cold or lonely. You just wish you could swap places or at least do something for them.
 
Death is difficult to deal with, but we can find hope in the Scriptures, especially if the one we loved and lost was a believer. It is helpful to remember that our earthly bodies are perishable by design. 1 Corinthians 15:36-37 tells us that earthly bodies are like seeds which are sown into the soil. Eventually, they dry up, die, and disappear, but upon death, they sprout and come back to life as something totally different.
 
Think about an acorn and its relationship to the thing that it becomes. An acorn is very small. It falls to the ground. As soon as it falls, the little acorn begins to die. It is susceptible to the elemental forces of the world, temperature changes, wind, and rain. It is trampled on and even eaten by the animals of the forest. Eventually, these elements claim the life of the little acorn, and it vanishes. After that, it comes back to life. It sprouts grows roots, then a trunk, then limbs and leaves. Eventually, it grows up into a mighty oak tree, but before it could become a mighty oak tree, the acorn had to fall to the earth and die. It was perishable by God’s design.
 
So it is with our earthly bodies. They eventually fall, and when they fall they begin to die. Death is imminent as the forces of the fallen world wreak havoc upon the body. In God’s time the body dies and disappears, but for the believer, in God’s time, it comes back to life as something altogether different and more glorious.
 
This resurrection body for which we hope and long for is all the things that our earthly body is not. Most comforting of all, it is imperishable. If the body is the little acorn that dies, then the resurrection body is the mighty oak tree to which it gives way. The earthly body had to die because like a seed it was a means to something greater. The resurrection body is the thing that is greater. Once resurrected, there is no longer a need for death as there is no longer a need for it to become anything any greater.
 
It is so comforting for one who is mourning the passing of a believer to understand that their passing, horrific as it may have been, was the means by which they will discover the hope of all mankind. Death claimed their flesh, but not for long. The day is fast approaching when they, like their blessed Savior, will be raised again. Their bodies will be reanimated and come back to life. Their new bodies, like Jesus’, will be different and more powerful. Most importantly their new bodies will be clothed in incorruptible flesh that will never again die.
 
If you are a believer, then you have this promise. Romans 6:5 says, “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” If in this life, we die to ourselves, to any idea that we could save ourselves from death, then we are in effect crucified with Him. Our fate is sealed. Since we have died a death like His, the only thing still standing between us and receiving a resurrection like His is death. For the believer, death is not just a good thing, it is the thing we hope for the most. Knowing Him and the power of His resurrection is more valuable than anything this world offers. Death is a small price to pay to attain the resurrection.

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Leave The Shack on the Shelf

 

When The Shack came out in theaters, I knew a lot of my people would go watch it. I also knew that there were a lot of conservative Christian blogs that were decrying The Shack’s interpretation of the Christian faith. I refrained from reading any of these blogs because I was determined to go see it for myself in order to provide my own objective review. Well, I was providentially hindered from seeing it in the theater, however, I did rent it when it came out on DVD last week.
 
I know this review is coming too late for many. Many of you have already seen the movie and formed your opinions. Others have already decided to buy or rent The Shack. Late or not, I felt it urgent to point out several problems with The Shack.
 
1. The Shack causes confusion concerning the Trinity. The Trinity, God existing in three persons– the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is a difficult enough concept in itself, but the Bible teaching on it is not ambiguous. In Scripture, all three persons of the Trinity have a specific role.
 
The Father is not a human being but a Spirit and that is all He ever will be. He never changes form. The Son is the person of God with a human form. He is God in the flesh. God who is personal and relatable. The Holy Spirit is also not a human being. He is the comforter and the giver of gifts that we might know Christ and advance the gospel in the world. The Spirit leads us to faith in the Son, and the Son, by faith, leads us to know the Father who is invisible. The Shack confuses this biblical truth by depicting all three persons of the Trinity as human beings.
 
2. The Shack teaches that “we are all God’s children.” I know you are probably thinking, “but aren’t we all God’s children?” According to The Shack, yes. According to Scripture, no. Scripture teaches that we are all hopeless reprobates apart from Christ. It is only when we receive Him that we are then given “the right to be called children of God” (John 1:12). All who have not received Christ and believed in Him as their Savior are children of the devil (Ephesians 2:1-3).
 
I am not splitting hairs here. John 3:17 teaches that God sent Jesus to a world that was already condemned. This is why His sending of Jesus into the world was such a mighty expression of His love. This is why grace is amazing. Through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection He became a father to the fatherless who believed.
 

 

 

3. Shack does away with the Biblical doctrine of Hell and depicts a God who is unjust. In one important scene, the main character is asking a woman, who is supposed to be the personification of wisdom, why God would not punish the murderer of his daughter. Wisdom then speaks to the character and asks him which of his two remaining children would he choose to be cast into hell. The man indicates that he would rather die than to send either of his children to hell.
 

 

Here is the problem with that scene and other scenes in the Shack that teach this principle, the Bible teaches that God loves justice. He is a just judge. Those who refuse faith and repentance, refuse forgiveness. When they die, they die in their sin. He sends them to hell. To do otherwise would be unjust.

 

It is not His desire that any should perish in the fire of hell. He loved them so much that He sent His only Son to die so that they would not have to. Still, there are many who reject His love, and they do so by their own free will. This is why a place like Hell is necessary.

 

The movie depicts some good ideas and concepts. This is what makes The Shack so dangerous. Like many heretical teachings, there is just enough truth there to attract and hook the weak minded. Once hooked, it leads its hearers to confusion at the very least. Worse, it even leads some to reject the God of the Bible for an idol who is more palatable. My suggestion is that if you are curious about who God is, then read your Bible. Leave The Shack on the shelf.

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How Can We Not Go Tell Part 2

 

Continued from last week…
 

He said, “people like you treat non-Christians like a second class of human being.” The statement was served with a harshly pointed tone. I was not angry. Internally, I was thanking God for the opportunity he was giving me to answer honest questions from my new friend. I have talked about liberal theologians before, but I had never had an honest conversation with one. I was sure that he had done his share of bashing people like me to his students, but now he was getting to talk with me.

 

I explained that we did not treat nonbelievers as second-class human beings. On the contrary, we think everyone from every background should be introduced to the hope that is in us. The Bible says that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first and also to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). To keep this message of salvation to ourselves is to practice the worst kind of hate. If we say we love everyone and if we really believe what we say we believe, how can we not plead with everyone to trust in Jesus and be saved from a devil’s hell?

 

I thought that was going to be it. I had stated my Christ-centered argument clearly, and biblically. I just knew he was going to have no choice but to tell me I was right, and he was wrong. However, my new friend was not swayed at all. What he said next made it that he had not heard a single word of my well-constructed argument.

 
 “You know who you people remind me of,” he asked, “the Pharisees. Jesus told them in Matthew 23:15, ‘Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across land and sea to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.’”
 
When I pressed him to defend his harsh tone, he explained that Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and other civilized religions are all pathways to the one true God. The religions themselves were not really substantive. Their doctrines and practices were mere expressions of the tradition and customs of their cultures. These traditions and customs lead the followers to God, and in turn, leads them to become good moral people which is all that really matters anyway. He argued that my mission team proselytizing followers of other religions amounted to nothing more than us manipulating people into replacing their traditions with our traditions.
 
I explained that we do not seek to disrupt anyone’s customs or traditions. We simply introduce them to the person and work of Jesus. We do this because according to the scriptures, Jesus is the only way to God the Father. The only way anyone can have a relationship with God is by coming to know His Son and trusting in what He did for mankind on the cross.
 

The back and forth went on for just a little while longer. It was obvious that neither one of us was going to budge from our positions. He eventually excused himself to continue his critique of his student’s dissertation on Athanasius and the Trinitarian controversy of the fourth century.

 

As he worked, I reflected on our conversation. None of my conservative Christian friends would dare say that there are multiple ways to God, that being a good moral person is all that really matters anyway. They would not say that it is inconsequential what religion one practices. However, I know many conservative Christians who preach this message with their actions.

 

There is no good reason not to introduce everyone we know to Jesus, the Savior of the world, but the truth is that most Christians generally refrain from proselytizing. We tell ourselves that most people we know are good moral people anyway. We convince ourselves that this is all that really matters, and they are going to be okay. This is false teaching.

 
 Scripture teaches that no one is good. All people, even the best of them, have turned aside to their own way. Their hearts are deceived. The truth is that they will never believe in Him whom they have not heard, and they will never hear without someone telling them. How can we not go and tell knowing that the good people we love will go to hell apart from Christ?

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How Can We Not Go Tell?

 

I recently had the pleasure of sitting next to a Theology professor from a very prestigious private university on a long flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta. He is very well known in his circle and was even named Professor Emeritus of his department. He was recently retired, living in the Netherlands, and flying back to the U.S. to hear one of his last students defend his dissertation.
 
Here is how I learned his story. I noticed him reading the dissertation on the Trinitarian controversy of the fourth century. Being sort of a church history buff, I immediately wanted to ask him about two hundred questions. When the stewardess brought our next meal, he cleared the dissertation from his seat tray and prepared to eat. That is when I said, “I could not help but notice you were reading about Athanasius and the Trinitarian controversy.” He absolutely lit up. I could tell he does not get to talk about church history very often with people outside his circle.
 
We hit it off. He told me all about his career. He asked about my work and my church. He told me several stories about students that he had from the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coasts, and how fond he was of southerners. This conversation went on for about an hour and a half.
 
The discussion began to turn, though, when he asked about the work I had been doing in Uganda with my friends from Jackson County. When I told him how the followers of Islam in Uganda were very open and receptive of the gospel, he asked me if I had considered how “disruptive” our work could be to the Muslim community. I explained that I would not call it “disruptive” that people were being introduced to the hope that is found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
What became evident in the ensuing discussion was that he and I held different views on the Great Commission and a fundamentally different theology. His understanding of the Great Commission was that Jesus called His first followers to take the gospel to the nations, and they were obedient. Now that the message of Christ was out there, people could choose for themselves whether to believe or not believe the gospel. For him, there was no need to go to peoples who were already grounded in another faith, as doing so would only disrupt their community and the culture. He believed that we all generally worship the same God anyway. As long as the God of one’s choosing led them to be nice people, they would have eternal life.
 
At the height of our disagreement, he said, “people like you treat non-Christians like a second class of human being.” The statement was served with a harshly pointed tone. I was not angry. Internally, I was thanking God for the opportunity he was giving me to answer honest questions from my new friend. I have talked about liberal theologians before, but I had never had an honest conversation with one. I was sure that he had done his share of bashing people like me to his students, but now he was getting to talk with me.
 
I explained that for a truth to be true it must be true for all, and it must be timeless. I explained that people like me, believe the Bible to be the word of God, and we believe it to be truth. In the first century, it was truth both for those who believed and those who did not believe, and it remains today truth for all. All have the option to believe or not believe, but those who do believe are given hope for eternal life.
 
I explained that we did not treat nonbelievers as second-class human beings. On the contrary, we think everyone from every background should be introduced to the hope that is in us. The Bible says that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first and also to the gentile” (Romans 1:16). To keep this message of salvation to ourselves is to practice the worst kind of hate. If we say we love everyone and if we really believe what we say we believe, how can we not plead with everyone to trust in Jesus and be saved from a devil’s hell?
 
To be continued…

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Perspectives of a Third World Traveler

 

I just returned from my third trip to Uganda. Certain things about coming home have gotten easier. I have learned how to beat the jetlag that comes with an eighteen-hour flight by staying up at the right times and sleeping at the right times on the plane. It has gotten easier to navigate security at the airports.
 
There is one thing that has not gotten easier about coming home and that is the culture shock. You can probably imagine that being immersed in a third world country for two weeks and then coming back into the first world gives you a unique perspective. It is this perspective that I hope to share with you this week. Here are some things I have learned about coming home.
 
1. Americans are not “more blessed” than Ugandans, we are just blessed in different ways. Americans definitely have more money, better infrastructure, more freedom, and greater opportunities. However, the pace of life here in America is lightning speed compared to Uganda. In Uganda, the people soak up every moment of life. They have time for one another, and because of that they build stronger more loyal relationships. They are not constantly worried about the next thing they have to do, the next place they need to go, and the next person they need to see. This more relaxed pace is definitely a blessing. It is difficult for an American to switch into, and equally difficult to switch out of after coming home.
 

2. We waste more food, water, gas, and money than the Ugandans use. This can be more than a little irritating to adjust to after coming home. I have had to learn to temper my reaction when I see my children leave more food on their dinner plate than many of my Ugandan friends eat in one day. Every time I shower, I think about all the women and children I saw carrying Geri Cans of water on their heads for miles. Many people have more clothes in their closet with tags still attached than a Ugandan has ever owned in their lifetime. We could make the world a better place if we could find a way to bless others instead of wasting our blessing.

 
3. American men are more macho than necessary. This one was a huge challenge for me on my first visit to Uganda. Ugandan men are not uncomfortable to sit shoulder to shoulder even when the sitting area is not crowded. They hold each other’s hands. They speak softly, respectfully, and affectionately to one another. They hug, and a stranger’s handshake for them can last as long as a full minute. I am sure that just reading this makes American males uncomfortable, but brotherly affection is deeply engrained in Ugandan culture. I have concluded that since their culture is older than ours, they have a better handle on masculinity than Americans. In my three trips, I have developed many deep and meaningful relationships with other Ugandan men, and I miss their brotherhood whenever I come home.
 
4. Ugandans find it hard to believe that there are poor people in America. For them, being poor and hungry is the norm and being rich is exceptional. They sacrificially share with on another what little they have. For us, being rich is the norm and being poor is exceptional, yet we are not as sharing. They cannot understand why there are so many orphans in the U.S. when so many have rooms to spare in their homes, or why there is homelessness in a country that is so rich.
 
The most common comment that people make to me when I get back is, “I bet seeing what you saw over there makes you thankful to live in America.” It does, but visiting Africa also causes my heart to break for my own country. I wish we saw our blessings for what they are—opportunities to be a blessing to others. I wish we wasted less and gave more. I wish we cared more about others than ourselves. I wish we worked as hard at building relationships with one another as we do at building empires. I do not mean to bemoan my citizenship in the greatest country in the world, but it is my earnest prayer that we would grow closer to Christ and make a greater impact on the world through Him.

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Enjoy the Journey

 

Acts 1:8 is a promise. It says that when we receive the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be His witnesses in all the earth. Indeed, my life is a testimony to this promise. I never dreamed I would be a pastor. In my high school and college years, I would never have imagined standing in the pulpit preaching the gospel week after week, officiating weddings, conducting funerals, and serving as Jesus’ witness in so many different ways. There is no explanation other than that the power of the Holy Spirit came upon me. All that I do to serve as His witness today is just an outworking of the Holy Spirit in me.
 
Last week, God added to the list of all the things that I never dreamed I would do. While on a mission trip to northern Uganda, I loaded up in a Toyota Land Cruiser with a missionary and 6 friends from Jackson County, MS. We drove up into the Metu Mountains that form Uganda’s border with South Sudan. The road was treacherous, to say the least. It was a journey that could not have been attempted in a lesser vehicle. Even the land cruiser struggled to climb the mountain road. The slightest slip of the tire on the sharp rocks would have resulted in them being shredded. The top heaviness of the vehicle combined with the steep slopes in the road was a constant threat to rolling us over.
 
After a couple of hours of climbing the mountain in the Cruiser, the road ended and turned into a foot trail through the forest and down the other side of the mountain. All I could think as we were carefully stepping down the rocky trail was that we were going to have to climb that same trail out. After about a mile or so we reached the bottom, and the trail led us into a beautiful fertile valley.
 
As we traveled through the valley, the trail narrowed. Soon the path all but disappeared, as we followed our missionary through cassava and corn fields, across streams, and through the jungle. It was one careful step after another as our missionary told stories about encountering pythons on the same path just weeks earlier. We were advised to stay on the narrow path to avoid the many baboon traps that had been set in the fields.
 
Now we had been told that at the end of the footpath there was a small village of about one hundred people or less who had never heard the name of Jesus until just a few months ago. After about two hours  hours and as many miles of walking, I was sure that we had been lied to. I could not imagine people surviving in such a remote place. The presence of cultivated crops in the valley may have been the only evidence for truth in our guides’ story.
 
All of the sudden I could see a group of round grass thatched roofs in the distance. As we drew closer we all started to notice the nine by six-foot bamboo and tarp building with a group of about twelve people gathered and waiting for us. The looks on their faces told me that they were as shocked to see us as we were to see them. We could not believe that they really existed, and they could not believe that we had really come.
 
As we took our seats in the small shelter, it was explained that this building was their church building. They were all brand new Christians who were planning to be baptized soon. There were some there who were still not yet believers. Our group was the most white people they had ever seen gathered in one place.
 
We took turns sharing the gospel with them and encouraging them. One lady trusted in Jesus and was saved. They fed us their very best cassava, mutoke, and chicken soup. We embraced as brothers and sisters in Christ, then we made our long journey out.
 
It was truly a surreal experience in every sense of the word. I share it with you to encourage you. When you become a follower of Jesus, He really will take you to the end of the earth. He will also take you across the street and everywhere in between. Just be open to His leadership. Enjoy the journey.

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